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Fuelling the Midlands Engine

Published: 09 March 2017
Area of Law: Planning, Real Estate

Fuelling the Midlands Engine

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s underwhelming budget (at least from a planning and real estate perspective), today saw the publication of the government’s Midlands Engine Strategy which is, in its own words, “a demonstration of the government’s commitment to making the Midlands a powerful engine for economic growth”.

As the Strategy acknowledges, the Midlands is “essential to our national economic success” but whilst it currently has an economy worth £217.7 billion, the fact is that this only accounts for 13% of the UK’s annual output.  As such, it is clear that there is significant scope for growth, and it’s pleasing to see that this has been recognised by government who are now seeking to do something about it (not simply drive growth in the North as previously appeared to be the case).  This is something backed up by the government’s upcoming Quatar/UK investment conference which opted to hold in Birmingham with a particular focus on the greater Midlands.  (An event in which Shakespeare Martineau is closely engaged as a conference partner.)

The Strategy notes the challenges faced by the Midlands in achieving this growth, notably a shortage of skilled workers; the low graduate retention rates of the region’s major cities; the fragmented nature of the region; and the low levels of entrepreneurship and economic dynamism.

From a planning perspective, the key points which the Strategy seeks to address relate to connectivity and the redevelopment and enhancement of the region.
In the East Midlands, this means significant funding being allocated to the Local Enterprise Partnerships, together with additional funding to improve road connections in and around Loughborough, which it is claimed will “unlock land for 40000 new homes, support new jobs in the area, and enhance facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Further financial investment to allow the, long overdue, refurbishment of Broadmarsh bus station and car park in Nottingham will help facilitate the regeneration of the Nottingham Southern Gateway area by 2020.  Similar proposals to invest in the regeneration of Derby City Centre and the redevelopment of Nottingham Castle will do much to improve two of the East Midlands major cities.

£2.4 million is also to be allocated to the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership to purchase strategic sites for employment and housing that will make sure the area benefits as much as possible from HS2. 

The site which has been earmarked for the East Midlands HS2 station at Toton is currently within the Green Belt.  This suggests that there may be a slight tension with the recent Housing White Paper that will need to be resolved in due course.  As has been the case in recent years, I would expect any such tension to be resolved in favour of the Treasury, but it will be interesting to see how local planning policy evolves over the coming months and years.  What does seem likely is that landowners in the Toton area will be delighted by the prospective windfall coming their way as a result of today’s announcement.

Similarly, the acknowledged need to deliver strategic housing sites across the Midlands to provide 170,000 new homes will also raise local planning challenges.
In the West Midlands, there is inevitably a focus on the development of the HS2 network, which will have Birmingham at its heart. The big driver for the project is to increase network capacity.  It does mean that, by 2033, Birmingham will be within an hour’s train journey of Manchester, Leeds and London. There is also a wider acknowledgement of the need for connectivity across the region to be improved. This will see the Local Growth Fund invest in a programme of transport upgrades across the West Midlands, such as over £25m for infrastructure in Coventry and Warwickshire to unlock key commercial and housing sites.  The same amount will be allocated to tackle congestion in the Black Country and reduce journey times on key routes. 

In addition, £5m of funding has been allocated for developing the concept of the “Midlands Rail Hub”, which could provide up to 10 additional trains per hour into central Birmingham. These improvements should help to address the fragmentation of the Midlands economy, which is one of the major factors causing the region’s notoriously low productivity.

Overall, the Strategy sets out a number of positive steps which indicate a desire on the part of government to support growth and development across the Midlands.  Whilst we’re not quite convinced that the proposed introduction of smart ticketing on the local rail network will achieve a significant improvement in connectivity, the intention to maximise growth and investment and improve connectivity more generally bodes well for our region’s future.

Shakespeare Martineau are proud to be one of the headline sponsors of the Midlands Engine movement at this year’s MIPIM, which takes place in Cannes from 14 – 17 March 2017. More information on our involvement can be found here.

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